Saturday, March 11, 2006

Everybody's Got the Right

I read on today that Slobodan Milosovec died in his prison cell. I don't know much about Milosovec beyond a hazy "wasn't he involved in that Bosnian war thingy?" a couple years ago and what the BBC saw fit to include in the article. It mentioned that he was being held in prison for "war crimes" but it also said that he "held office" in Bosnia for fourteen years. Which got me thinking about the nature of power and who gets to wield it over others. Naturally, being me, I started by thinking about Napoleon and how two hundred years ago, you just COULDN'T put an Emperor on trial for "war crimes" because a) the concept didn't exist, and b) he was an Emperor and therefore better than you. But with today's idea of democracy and everybody is equal (or, at least has a chance to be equal) it means that anyone can be held accountable for their actions--well, if your protective shell of government breaks down, anyway. So now we have a man who was "elected" to lead Bosnia being held to account for the war crimes he committed while he was "in office." Being held to account by who? Who gives the judges, the lawyers, the jury the "right" to try him? It feels like (and I'm also thinking of the current issue with Mr. Saddam Hussein right now...) that the "winner" of these conflicts gets to do whatever they want with the "losers..." I can hear people howling--and yes, of course, murderers should recieve justice--but what is it that gives other people the right to bring leaders to account? Is it a moral highroad? President Bush can go into Iraq and say "out out damn Saddam" because he has a moral obligation to? Because "God told me to invade Iraq?*" Because he has bigger guns? Why now? There are no easy answers, and I'M certainly not qualified, being neither an emperor nor a judge, but I can't help, again, thinking of the example of Napoleon. If the trial machine that is currently operating to try Saddam Hussein (and, ostensibly, the one which was set up for Milosovec) rules to excute him...doesn't that make us the same as him? When the US first set up it's governement, this great creaky machine we like to call democracy, the first couple elections (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson) were breathtaking affairs. Mostly because no one knew if it would be a peaceful turnover of power--and the fact that it was was kind of amazing. Think of all the kings and queens who have been deposed at the edge of a sword. Yet, somehow we (Americans) managed to move past all that. Why we now feel the need to put such a final coda on the reigns of the terrible men smacks of hypocrasy. I don't know why I feel the hand of American justice behind these two trials, except at this point we do have the biggest guns--so that must mean we have the moral right as well.

*I wish I was kidding, but this was in the Guardian last January.

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